1. Passover (Pesach): This festival commemorated the Israelites’ liberation from slavery in Egypt. It involved the sacrifice and consumption of a lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs. Passover was observed in the first month of the Hebrew calendar, Nisan (March/April).
2. Feast of Unleavened Bread: This festival immediately followed Passover and lasted for seven days. During this time, the Israelites were to eat only unleavened bread, symbolizing the haste in which they left Egypt. It was a time of remembrance and the removal of leaven (yeast) from their homes and diets.
3. Feast of Firstfruits (Pentecost/Shavuot): This festival took place fifty days after the Passover Sabbath and celebrated the firstfruits of the wheat harvest. It involved presenting the first sheaf of the harvest as an offering to God. It also commemorated the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai.
4. Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah): This festival marked the beginning of the new year in the Hebrew calendar, occurring on the first day of the seventh month, Tishrei (September/October). It was characterized by the blowing of trumpets (shofars) and involved solemn assemblies and special sacrifices.
5. Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur): This was a solemn day of fasting and repentance, observed on the tenth day of the seventh month. It was a time to seek forgiveness for sins and reconcile with God. The high priest would enter the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle/Temple to make atonement for the people.
6. Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot): This festival, also known as the Feast of Booths, commemorated the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness. It involved living in temporary booths (sukkot) for seven days as a reminder of their dependence on God. It was a joyful celebration and a time of offering sacrifices.
7. Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah): Although not originally mandated in the Old Testament, this festival gained significance later in Jewish history. It commemorated the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by the Seleucid Empire. Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days in the month of Kislev (November/December) and involves the lighting of the menorah and the retelling of the story of the miracle of the oil.
These festivals were significant religious and cultural events in the lives of the Israelites, providing opportunities for worship, remembrance, and celebration throughout the year.